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Maze Terminology — an Overview

Maze puzzle of the Pantheon, Rome

Maze puzzle of the Pantheon in Rome

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Here are some common terms related to mazes and labyrinths. See if you can find examples of some of the more unusual maze features listed below in the Amazeing Art mazes. Also see the page on types of mazes.

The process of retracing your path in a maze. This happens when you reach a dead end and have to turn around, or if you have followed a passage that leads you back to an area of the maze you have already traversed.
The raised pathway or divider on a turf maze.
Best-Solution (or Shortest Path)
The shortest physical route through a maze (i.e. the quickest solution if one is walking). Some mazes have more than one best solution (i.e. two or more solutions that are equally short), although this is very rare.
Blind Alley (similar to Cul-de-sac, Trap)
In general, these are various looping passageways or collections of passageways that, once entered, must be exited by backtracking along the original path that you came in on. Some mazes have very large areas, within which one can wander aimlessly, that must be backtracked out of to solve the maze.
A passage connecting one area of a maze to another, and that must be traversed in order to solve the maze. Every solution to the maze must go through the bottleneck.
Chartres-type (or Medieval, Christian) Labyrinth
A circular labyrinth with a distinctive 11-circuit pattern, common to Christian churches and cathedrals in the Middle Ages. Named after the stone labyrinth on the floor of Chartres cathedral in France.
Classical (or Cretan) Labyrinth
A 7-circuit circular labyrinth, the oldest labyrinth symbol known and common to many cultures in the ancient world. Named after its use on coins from the Minoan palace at Knossos on Crete (site of the labyrinth in Greek mythology).
Cornfield (or Maize) Maze
A temporary outdoor maze puzzle created out of a cornfield, designed to be walked as a family or tourist attraction.
Cross, Corners, and Dots
A simple seed pattern of lines and dots that allows for the easy creation of a Classical Labyrinth.
In Greek mythology, Daedalus (whose name means "cunning worker") was a skillful craftsman and artisan. He was the creator of the Labyrinth on Crete, which was designed as a prison to contain the Minotaur.
Dead End
A passageway that leads nowhere and that has no branches or junctions. Once you discover you are in a dead end, turn around.
End (or Goal, Exit)
The end point of a maze, usually indicated by "E" in printed puzzles. In unicursal mazes (mazes with a single path, commonly called labyrinths) the end is often in the center.
Hedge maze
An outdoor maze constructed from planted hedges that are too tall to see over. Similar (but much longer lasting and smaller) to a Cornfield Maze.
Julian's Bower
A traditional English name for a turf maze.
Junction (or fork, decision point, node)
An area in a maze where three or more passageways meet, forcing the maze solver to choose between at least two alternate routes going forward. Well designed junctions utilize psychology to mislead maze solvers down incorrect passageways. For example, maze solvers tend not to take passageways that appear to go back in a direction they just came from. Making such passageways the route to the solution results in a more difficult maze.
Commonly used today to refer to a unicursal (single-path) maze design. In the ancient world, however, the labyrinth was more akin to our modern understanding of a maze puzzle, with many confusing paths and dead ends. From the Greek labrys, a sacred double-axe symbol of pagan religion.
A maze is an intricate, usually confusing network of interconnecting pathways, the solution of which is an uninterrupted path from a starting point to a goal. Most mazes have a single starting point and a single end point (though this is not required). Mazes can be printed on paper, constructed in the real world (hedge mazes or cornfield mazes, for example), or even exist within the confines of a virtual world (in a computer game, an interactive maze on a website, etc.).
Maze generation algorithm
An automated method for the quick creation of computer-generated mazes. There are many varieties (graph-theory, recursive division, cellular automata etc.).
A mythical beast, half-man and half bull, that was imprisoned in the labyrinth of Knossos by King Minos of Crete.
Outer Wall (or Boundary)
The wall or barrier forming the outermost perimeter of a maze. Everything outside the outer wall is not a part of the maze puzzle.
A path upon which one is constrained while solving a maze. Passageways are bordered by walls, and force the maze solver to either go forward or backward along the passageway. Large open spaces in a maze (such as a room) are technically passageways if they contain exactly two entrance/exit points.
Pavement labyrinth
A labyrinth composed of stones, mosaics, or tiles laid on a floor or outdoors.
Picture maze
A maze whose solution-path forms a picture or some other identifiable symbol when solved.
A single passageway that spirals into itself and leads to a dead end at the center of the spiral.
Start (or Entrance, Beginning)
The entrance or starting point for a maze, usually indicated with an "S." Some mazes have more than one starting point, although this is rare. In outdoor mazes visitors are forced to begin at the start. This is not so with printed maze puzzles, where a common maze-solving technique (when stuck) is to begin at the End and try to work backwards to the Start. Theseus didn't have this option.
Stone (or Boulder) Labyrinth
A labyrinth in which the pathways are defined by lines of stones, pebbles, or small boulders that are placed on both sides of the pathway. Commonly, stone labyrinths are variants of the basic 7-circuit design.
In Greek legend, the hero who killed the Minotaur, a fearsome half-man and half-bull beast imprisoned within a labyrinth on the island of Crete. He succeeded in this with the help of Ariadne, daughter of King Minos of Crete, who fell in love with him. On the advice of Daedalus, she gave him a ball of thread, which he used to find his way back out of the labyrinth. Theseus was also the founder-king of Athens, and was credited with the conquest of the Amazons, whose queen he married.
Turf Maze
A turf maze is most commonly a unicursal labyrinth (single path), with the paths defined by cutting or trimming the turf. It is designed to be walked upon, and the end goal is usually in its center.
Three or more passageways that spiral into each other, to a central junction, where one must then choose a passageway leading back out. Vortices are disorienting because it is difficult to predict in what direction a passageway leading out will ultimately lead. Multiple vortices linked together can be particularly confusing to navigate.
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The earliest mazes we know of were parts of architectural monuments built in Egypt and on the island of Crete about 4000 years ago.

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